Special Feature: Tassie Snapper 101 With Hooch

The searching of new ground for snapper in Tasmania is one of the most exciting exploits I have been involved with.

Traditionally the hallowed snapper grounds have been the Tamar River and the far corners of the North North West and North North East. Over the years there have been some serious specimens taken from these areas. Other anglers have seen these as one-offs, and the ability to find and catch snapper as some sort of magic. This has changed recently and is really exciting for the central North West region.

Damon Sherriff is the Tamar River snapper guru - period.

Damon Sherriff is the Tamar River snapper guru – period.

Some cobber’s from young North West anglers that are daring to be different and try new techniques. These techniques are not new to the fisho’s from the big isle and the lads have used them to great effect. I have been on a few trips to Port Phillip Bay and have shaped some of what they do over there to good effect on our home grounds. My friend and fishing partner caught a nice Snapper last season in PPB and that got us super keen to have a crack. We came home and have used some tips and tricks to find some home grown Snapper of our own. The North of the state is not the only area to be in the grip of some snapper fever. Occasional captures around Southern end of the state around the capital of Hobart is also exciting and motivating anglers to target these great fish extensively.  
Isaac Harris with a southern snapper caught in the Hobart area. – Photo by Rob Millar.

Isaac Harris with a southern snapper caught in the Hobart area. – Photo by Rob Millar.


New Discoveries

We are finding them more often and in better quantities on areas we should have found them ages ago. Areas that we would motor up to and try to fish with paternoster rigs with small hooks and small baits on the drift. It would have us smashed by parrot fish and we would never go back. We would catch a power of Bluehead Wrasse and draughtboard shark, get frustrated and move further out trying to find a gummy or feed of flathead. The more switched on anglers have quickly sussed this type of ground is where the Snapper come through and habitat. I can, and will, go on about the benefits of fishing at anchor and making sure you have some burley going out. Small cubes of pillies and the occasional larger few. This will bring the fish to you.
Jason Sims has been able to crack the code off Devonport.

Jason Sims has been able to crack the code off Devonport.


Time & Effort

  Yes … you will have to put up with a few Blue Head Wrasse and Draughtboard shark, but if you have significant patience you will be rewarded. It may not be the first trip out chasing Snapper as you will have to hone your techniques and get your set up right. You may also have to fish either side of the low and high tides to find some action. When you do find that action and have a Snapper come into view it will all be very much worth it. My fishing buddies and I have put considerable effort into working our own little patch out of the Forth River. The satisfaction of melding and shaping what has worked in other areas around the country to your own back yard is massive. I got smoked last season by a very solid fish in about 8m of water so I have some unfinished business to attend to.
Far North West is where Nathan Scatchard found one. He will be back!

Far North West is where Nathan Scatchard found one. He will be back!

A Learning Curve Not enough is known about when and where the snapper are or when they are thickest as yet. Building up that knowledge by heading out and having a crack is the best bet. It’s time for a good old fashioned “prospecting session” or two. Finding spots based on what worked a bit last year and building on that. We will be trying a few spots along the North west coast in November and I hope to have something to report for you all as the action heats up in December. The interesting thing to bear in mind for me, is the broad and varied terrain these fish can be found on. Reefs sections or areas with a good sharp depth transition are gold, but so too are some of the more bland flat shale sections of bottom. So there is no real reason not to have a crack at them, for those that are keen to have a go, I echo the few tips that will maximise your chances. Fishing at anchor and with burley bucket over the side, about 2m from the bottom. Pilchards for cubing and plopping a few over every now and then. Google a few snapper rigs and give a few different ones a go out either side of the boat.
Berkley Gulp Nemesis ...deadly on snapper.

Berkley Gulp Nemesis …deadly on snapper.

The Key Is Patience

Patience …. And more patience. It takes a little time to substantiate a burly trail and leaving just as it starts to bring fish in is not clever. Once you have picked a likely looking spot. Tough it out and give the burley a chance to do its job. Take a book or listen to the radio. Remember it’s that UN watched rod that will buckle over. Irrespective of where you are fishing for Snapper there are a few things that are a constant that will have your prospecting eventually bear fruit.
The Lowrance lit up like a Christmas tree with snapper.

The Lowrance lit up like a Christmas tree with snapper.


Hooch’s Tips On Sounders

Your electronics are crucial in helping find a good spot to start with all fish and with Snapper it is no different. Snapper are an amazing fish and can be found over a number of different sea surfaces and this in turn confuses and frustrates. Having a good sounder that you can tune understand and adjust quickly is very very important. We use models from SIMRAD and Lowrance and find them amazing. However as long as you are comfortable with tuning and know how to decipher what you are looking at you will be in great form. One way to get to know your sounder and how it works is read. Sorry, but there is no better way to get an understanding of your unit and its capabilities. By listening to your mate or a friend of a friend you can be led right up the garden path and pick up some bad habits or miss truths. Make a coffee, sit down in front of your unit and have a play.
Highly regarded trophy fish. Jason Sims had one of his captures mounted.

Highly regarded trophy fish. Jason Sims had one of his captures mounted.

Practice (And The Manual) Make Perfect

  Read the instructions and move through the menu systems and get a thorough understanding of what each function is. What it does and why it does it. Put simply. If you have an expensive piece of electronics on your boat dash and you don’t know how to use it ? You may as well smash it off its mount and throw it over the side. Not knowing how to run it, half knowing how to use it will cause you far too much frustration and angst.

Good school of snapper show like this with good set up and tune Seriously. It’s not that hard to get your head around it. Little steps and all of a sudden the light bulb in the old noggin will switch on and you are onto it!

Leave some time up your sleeve when fishing to try different things with your sounder and put in practice what you have read. One great tip I was told many years ago is back to back what you know with what your sounder is showing. Look at what the sounder is reflecting and submit that to memory from what you know as fact. You may have dived the area before and know where it goes from reef to sand. Look on the sounder as you go over it and get an understanding what that looks like. Conversely you may be out in bright sunny conditions with super clear water and see the bottom in 8 plus metres of water. Find some differing bottom types and cross check what you are seeing on your sounder screen with the bottom underneath you.
Snapper on bleak bottom in Port Phillip Bay.

Snapper on bleak bottom in Port Phillip Bay.


Fishing At Anchor

There is no doubt if you are a snapper guru and live in an area where they are think with plenty of known spots you can catch them on the drift. Soft plastics, micro jigs and even recently top water poppers have brought snapper undone. While prospecting and trying to find fish in areas unknown, fishing on the anchor is your friend. Weather conditions will be fairly important and a nice mild day with no wind or swell will allow you to sit and fish with comfort. When dropping and raising anchor and looking to lay back on the right spot you may have a few goes. It takes a little while to get your head around the effect current and breeze has over your boat on the anchor. An electric driven anchor is worth its weight in gold here. We use units from Sav Winch and are a huge fan. Effortless and trouble free. We have also found that a boat with an electric winch is a better boat. If you don’t have an electric anchor you don’t even dare look at it as it means manual effort. So you don’t use it. Since we have had our Sav Winches we use them all the time. Setting and laying back while talking to other anglers, relaxing while having lunch and at the start of a competition to have all hands involved in putting the finishing touches to gear.  
An Electric winch like this one from SAV Winch makes fishing at anchor a delight.

An Electric winch like this one from SAV Winch makes fishing at anchor a delight.

Nuts With The Burley?

Once you have that anchor set and you are in position you can start your burley trail by dropping your burly pot and putting a few cubes over the side with a handful of nuts. Get your rods out, baited up and out the back and sides. There are some fantastic items available to allow you to fish multiple rods. These range from simple rod holders that make one holder adapt to three to full blown stainless steel snapper racks. We also like to have a snapper snatcher out one side working its magic. If you have a rod left you can also cast a soft plastic in a section of water you don’t have a line and hop it back towards the boat. I favour a plastic with a heap of tail action like the Berkley Nemesis or Gulp Saltwater grub .. I had Mike Leis who is the Australian inventor and manufacturer of the SCUD berley pot give me a really good tip for some increased success. Fish sauce… Yes that’s right fish sauce and I like his logic. Fish oil while good and should also be utilised, it floats. Oil of course will float on water and head to the surface , but fish sauce will have all the fish attracting properties of oil but stay in the water column where you release it and flow into the water. Great tip from Mike. He also put us onto another great product for fishing at anchor and that’s the Anchor Bridle. The Anchor Bridle is a simple to use anchoring aid that allows you to adjust a boat’s anchored position by simply shortening or lengthening the rope. This has the benefit of opening up more fishing room on the boat and allowing one whole side as well as the stern of the boat.
Nuts for snapper ...they love 'em.

Nuts for snapper …they love ’em.

Big baits and the simple strayline rig work well when bait fishing.

Big baits and the simple strayline rig work well when bait fishing.

Using Berley

  There are a heap of burley options available. You can purchase any number of shapes and kinds of burley. You can also make your own. If you keep all your fish frames and old bait in the freezer you will eventually have enough to make a batch of berley. You won’t need a great deal for a snapper session and 5kg will be heaps for around 6 hours depending on water temperatures and your burley pot. Fine burley is the key here. Firstly to fit out of the smaller mesh of the burley pots and not clog them up. Secondly to allow your burley to disperse into the water column and create an underwater cloud of interest. If you are going to make your own you can mix in some of the commercially available burley nuts and some stale bread to mix in and absorb the fish smells. This is where you can mix in some of your fish oil and try the fish sauce idea. Berley nuts , berley pot and some big paddle tail soft plastics will generate some attention Drop your burley pot over the side and tie up leaving it up off the bottom. We let ours hang anywhere between 2 and 4 m up from the sea floor. One of the more interesting things you can do is attach your GoPro to the anchor rope in a manner that has you see whatever comes and goes in and out of your trail. When you review it later you may get some surprises. 

We have had our better success using baits way bigger than we had ever imagined and are often using whole fish on a Strayline rig like Gotcha Baits Silver Whiting. We place the snelled hook through the whiting and under the gill flap and back out the eye.

Keep It Subtle

This has a good hook set while also presenting a good amount of hook point allowing opportunity for good hook up. The running line hook is then placed in the tail section of the bait to also allow good hook point presentation and half hitching the leader right where the body turns to tail fin. Large squid tentacles are also superb snapper baits.

These are by no means the only or best ways to catch snapper. It’s a very general and brief snapshot that will give you a head start. These are just some things we have picked up from others while we have fished for snapper in areas where the fish are plentiful. Here in Tasmania in areas where snapper have supposed to be NOT be, we have used them and caught snapper. Like anywhere else they are found there are some common feeding triggers that work to maximise your opportunity to catch some. Snapper love water movement, and by that I mean they love to feed when the tide or current is on the move. Fishing either side of the in and outgoing tides will increase your chances. They seem to like a light transition as well and by that I mean that period of the day where its light and the sun is going down or its dark and the sun is coming up. The bigger fish will become much more confident at night and move into the shallows. They can be found pounding bait, crabs and toad fish in as little as 4m of water. In this water you will have to be a fishing ninja as they are a species of fish that will spook easily.

Hope you find some to play with – 

Kelly Hooch Hunt

Where the littlies are the big ones could be as well.

Where the littlies are the big ones could be as well.

Kelly Hunt

About Kelly Hunt

Kelly “Hooch” Hunt grew up on the North West coast of Tasmania, right on the river FORTH. Spending many hours on its banks chasing trout, at the estuary chasing salmon or knee deep at night floundering. It’s just what you did, nothing special. What is special and why Kelly has fished all his life is the friendships and adventures fishing has delivered. The life skills and amazing moments along with gut splitting belly laughs can all be attributed to his fishing exploits. The adventures now days are often offshore chasing mako shark, marlin and tuna as a member of Team PENN. Game fishing has been a massive part of what Hooch has been involved in recently and he puts this down to a trip as a teenager to Hervey Bay. The Hervey Bay pier was his playground for 2 weeks and the trout fishing took a serious back step. The lad’s eye’s where opened to a world of hard charging salty critters and he was hooked deep. Hooch is passionate and enthusiastic about his home state of Tasmania and the life skills that the outdoors and fishing have bestowed him. Family and community engagement is very close to his heart and with four kids of his own has his own little community. Developing fishing events that deliver benefit to regional coastal towns is a something he loves to do. Never is he ever likely to profess to be an expert or know everything about any one thing, however his general knowledge on boating and fishing is generous. So too is his willingness to share that knowledge. Recognising his down to earth approach and nothing’s a problem attitude Navico Australia and PENN reels Australia put Hooch to work as a national brand Ambassador. He also enjoys generous support from BRP Australia and Surtees Boats New Zealand. Kelly writes for several print magazines and contributes to a number of national blog pages, holds down a spot on radio’s Geelong Fishing Show and speaks at tackle nights when ever asked. Sharing stories, successes and failures with the same outgoing and extroverted manner that generally keeps all amused. He was also part of the crew that fought a fish for 20 hours only to have it break the line. If we ask and the scars have healed he may share that epic tale as well.

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